In defence of the stiff upper lip

The cult of introspection is the bane of modern life.

Patrick West

Patrick West

Topics Politics

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Prince Harry has been universally praised for admitting that he has sought counselling, after suffering in silence for the 29 years following the death of his mother, Princess Diana. No more the infamous British ‘stiff upper lip’ – the Prince has been acclaimed for admitting that he needed help.

He has been lauded because we are told that more people than ever are suffering from depression, anxiety and stress, and that we need to destigmatise it. But might it be the case that we are becoming more depressed precisely because we are becoming more obsessed with ourselves and how we feel?

Some say that stagnant wages and uncertain economic times are to blame for this current rise in stress. If this were the case, we would have seen a spike of depression in the 1970s and an epidemic in the 1930s. Others blame social media for making us unhappier, as it makes us feel inferior to our peers. Yet people were writing about growing rates of depression in the 1990s, the decade of Prozac and Oliver James’s landmark book Britain On The Couch, a decade in which the web was in its infancy and smartphones and social media didn’t even exist.

What has changed is that it has gradually become the norm to be told that we must all have mental problems. The language of ‘vulnerability’ pervades society – hence the culture of offence-taking, victimhood and Safe Spaces. And it’s ludicrous to speak of the ‘stigma’ around mental health. The people who are really regarded with suspicion today are those who don’t confess to having problems. It’s as if they’re hiding something or in denial.

The stigma is now directed at those of us who accept unhappiness as the norm, who don’t regard life’s trials, slings and arrows as abnormal and something to be cured or ‘talked about’. It’s those who buy into the myth of happiness, the mistaken belief that happiness is and should be the natural state of mankind, who are most prone to depression, for life will always let them down. The happiness myth is the ultimate source of woe in the Western world and has been for some decades. Social media has merely accentuated it.

Paradoxically, the first step towards happiness is accepting that life is primarily one of struggle and sorrow. ‘To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering’, wrote the psychologist Gordon W Allport in his English language preface to Viktor Frankl’s seminal book Man’s Search for Meaning (1946).

This quote is often misattributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, which is understandable, as Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, was a devotee of the philosopher. Nietzsche opposed introspection and championed overcoming adversity. He didn’t want us to be ‘true to ourselves’ but to wage ‘war against oneself’. This is what his ideal Übermensch does: he goes outside and beyond himself, not retreats and wallows within.

Frankl agreed that introspection and worry would only make things worse. Doing – not thinking – and creating meaning for yourself is life’s true calling: ‘Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.’ One must accept life’s inevitable suffering in order to transcend it. A stiff upper lip in the face of that which you can’t change is better than brooding pointlessly over it and growing evermore miserable as a consequence.

How academia invented ‘post-truth’

The phenomenon of ‘post-truth politics’ is usually spoken of in connection with the right, associated with Donald Trump’s ascendancy to power and with populism in northern Europe. Reports this week from Claremont, California serve to remind us otherwise: that its origins can be found in left-wing academia.

A coalition of ‘marginalised’ students at Pomona, one of the Claremont Colleges, has written a letter to its president questioning the whole ethos of the liberal arts college, stating that the search for truth is little more than an attempt to silence marginalised people. ‘The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples’, it reads.

Long before our news feeds became filled with nonsense, people were being taught this postcolonial, postmodernist doctrine: that knowledge is merely the product of power, and is necessarily subjective, and therefore unstable and relative. Allan Bloom railed against this ascendant ‘post-truth’ ethos exactly 30 years ago in The Closing of The American Mind. No one has done more to undermine ‘truth’ as noble pursuit more than the academic left. No one has championed more the notion that personal testimony, point of view and subjective experience are just as, or even more, valid than objective assessment.

It’s why creationists, 9/11 conspiracy theorists and Holocaust deniers are still with us: their ‘narrative’ is just as valid as anyone else’s.

‘My identity is sacred’ by Mungo Krankenhaus

I am appalled to read that an Australian psychiatrist says that teenagers want to be transgender only ‘because it’s trendy’. Stephen Stathis, who runs a children’s hospital in Brisbane, says that adolescents are ‘trying out being’ transgender to stand out or gain attention from their peers. He alleges that ‘one said to me, “Dr Steve… I want to be transgender, it’s the new black”.’

How very dare he make this deeply offensive remark, implying that teenagers are somehow fickle, insecure and shallow and will do absolutely anything to fit in with their peers, especially if it involves co-opting the latest modish cause.

It’s the absolute right of any individual to identify themselves exactly as they like. It’s outrageous for anyone to doubt or question the validity of your selfhood. You can call yourself a man, woman, white, black, Muslim, human, animal, vegetable, mineral. It’s entirely up to you. You make it true just by saying it.

I should clarify that this doesn’t of course apply to members of ISIS. They might identify themselves as ‘Muslims’, saying things like ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘death to all the unbelievers’, citing the Koran and all that. But they aren’t real Muslims. They have absolutely nothing to do with true Islam, which is all about peace and love and most certainly not about killing all the infidels.

You musn’t take these fantasists seriously. I mean, honestly. Don’t make me laugh! What silly people! True Muslims my arse!

Patrick West is a spiked columnist. His new book, Get Over Yourself: Nietzsche For Our Times, will be published on 1 August by Imprint Academic. Preorder it here. Follow him on Twitter: @patrickxwest

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Topics Politics


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